Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rober Hughes: The man, the mystery, and the motorcycle.

Last week's turnout for Shock of the New was phenomenal!  We are in awe of the support we are receiving, and are happy to keep this going for six more weeks. This week's installment will be covering The Landscape of Pleasure – Jeff Kalstrom, a UMD Drawing and Painting professor, will be speaking afterwards.  We hope to see you there at 11am at the Zinema Theater; and of course this is FREE and open to the public.

This week we would just like to talk about Robert Hughes.  If you couldn't make it to the first showing of Shock of the New, or merely need a refresher, here is the opening scene of the series:  On What Art Is

Although we don't have a vocab word included in our visual representation of Hughes this week, he does use the word prognosticate in his introductionary rant.

prognosticate [prɒgˈnɒstɪˌkeɪt]vb
1. to foretell (future events) according to present signs or indications; prophesy
2. (tr) to foreshadow or portend

You can most definitely tell that Hughes is not just lecturing on the history of modern art, his lectures are filled to the brim with his opinion.  Although you might not always agree with Hughes' views you can't deny that he is strong personality who is extremely entertaining to watch. Here are some interesting facts about the man behind the documentary:

Born in Sydney, Australia in 1938
  • Studied arts and architecture at the University of Sydney
  • Moved to Great Britain in the 1960s to write for the Spectator, the Telegraph, the Times and the Observer, before landing the position of art critic for Time Magazine in 1970.
  •  Some books that he has written include:
    • The Shock of the New (1981)
    • The Fatal Shore (1987)
    • Culture of Complaint (1993)
    • American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America (1997) 
  • Hughes' son, Danton, was named after the painter Georges Danton.  Danton was a fairly well known sculptor until his untimely death at the age of 34; his son committed suicide by remaining in the closed garage while his car was running.
  • Hughes was involved in a near-fatal car accident in 1999 near Sydney, which may have added to the slightly negative light he cast on Australia in his documentary: Australia, Beyond the Fatal Shore.
  • Hughes was married three times; his most recent marriage being to the famous painter Doris Downes.
  • Whilst at university, Hughes was part of the left-wing intellectual sub-culture in Sydney called the Sydney Push.  The Push was comprised of artists, poets, journalists, philosophers, musicians, lawyers and even career criminals, who typically gathered in pubs to organize large political demonstrations and protests. 
  • Here's an article he wrote about "Tuna Suprise" for the New York Times.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bibelots: Crown Jewels, or souvenirs?

Greetings art lovers, Internet aficionados, and readers.  Last week's installment of "Shock of the New" had a wonderful turnout!  Only five seats were available once the film started.  We can't thank you enough for your support and avid interest in the arts!  This week we're hoping to have a full house; Jim Klueg will be our guest speaker and he will be presenting on the ten things Dada has given us.  We're expecting a full house, so make sure to show up early enough to find a seat - 11am, this Saturday at the Zinema.

Now for this week's vocabulary word, bibelot.

bi·be·lot noun \ˈbē-bə-ˌlō\
1. a small object whose value lies in its beauty or rarity; trinket
2. a book of unusually small size
This being a french word, you might want to drop the 't' phonetically when you say it out loud (we know, it really does sounds like Bilbo Baggins' first name).

Bibelot has a couple of different meanings; sometimes referred to as a "bauble" it can be considered a small trinket that people get, often on a vacation, to remember an event.  It can also mean a small, well-made book that is of great value.  Both definitions share the fact that they are rare and usually a treasured object with sentimental value. 

What are some very old and famous bibelots?  The Crown Jewels!  The Crown Jewels of the UK use to be kept in Westminster Abbey, until the 1300's when it was found "unsafe" (or so the official website of the British monarchy says).

Colonel Thomas Blood (Doesn't he look like a tool?)
Real story: they were stolen.

After their theft the Crown Jewels were soon recovered and transported to their current home, The Tower of London. This incident of theft is not to be confused with the very famous Colonel Blood, known as the 'Man who stole the Crown Jewels'.  This name is somewhat ironic given the fact that he didn't really get away with stealing the crown jewels, he was caught INSIDE the Tower of London before being able to escape.  He also had the audacity to refuse questioning by anyone other than the king; the king acquiesced to his request (Pirates of the Caribbean reference) and ended up pardoning Colonel Blood and awarding him land in Ireland.  Now that's just rewarding bad behavior, if you ask me.

Thank you for sitting through our rant on the Crown Jewels, we promise there is a reason!

 Jewelry making is a wonderful craft, and jewelry can be considered a work of art in it's own respect.  Listed below are a couple regional jewelry makers:

Britta Kauppila : britta lynn design
Silver Cocoon Blog : Silver Cocoon Retail
The Jewelers Bench
Näf Glass
For you Wisconsinites : Water Music Jewelry

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Fingerprint and a Doorknob

Hello all!  We hope you're getting excited for the first showing of "Shock of the New" THIS SATURDAY, January 11!  The showing will be at 11am at the Zinema, followed by a discussion by the curator at the Tweed Museum of Art, Peter Spooner.  The topic of this week's installment is The Mechanical Paradise.  This episode shows how the development of technology influenced art between 1880 and end of WWI.  A longer synopsis can be found on the BBC's website.

Now for the fun stuff, our vocab word of the week!

prov·e·nance \ˈpräv-nən(t)s, ˈprä-və-ˌnän(t)s\
: The history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature.  French provenir, "to come from".

You can imagine how important this is when acquiring works at a museum.  By having the sufficient provenance of a piece you can make sure that the painting wasn't stolen and you can gather the actual worth of a painting based on its history.  An example of a very long and old provenance of a work is The Arnolfini Protrait by Jan van Eyck (see left).  The documented history of this piece dates back to 1434!  It's hard to believe this piece was purchased for a mere £600! ($950).  If you read through the entire provenance, you can see how the piece evolved over time; i.e. it used to have shutters and an original frame.

This painting is well recognized around the world because it is the only surviving panel from 15th-century northern Europe that specifically shows contemporary people interacting in a contemporary house.  It's also pretty baller that the literal translation of the artist's signature is "Jan van Eyck was here".  The signature of the artist in this case has been used in the literal interpretation that the artist was there; this meaning that he witnessed an event rather than only creating the work.  What did he witness?  A wedding?  A lawful transference of legal power to the gentleman's wife?  There has been a lengthy argument amongst art historians on the meaning behind this work, and unfortunately the provenance can only tell us so much!  We're not going to get into that now, but a nice little diddy on this painting can be found here

Speaking of a work of art getting stolen, we're now going to talk about one of the greatest art heists of all time...THE STEALING OF THE MONA LISA!  DUN DUN DUN.  Did you know that one of the first prime suspects in the pilfering of the Mona Lisa was none other than Pablo Picasso?!  Four years prior to the Mona Lisa heist he had been found with stone-heads that, unbeknownst to him, had been stolen from the Louvre.  Now, if Pablo's mother had heard she probably would have lectured him on the importance of provenance before buying art from a 'guy who knows a guy'.

Fun fact, his work titled Demoiselles d’Avignon was modeled after these stolen objects (see right).

Empty Space Unoccupied by Mona Lisa
Long story short, Pablo didn't steal the Mona Lisa.  A previous employee of the Louvre, Vincenzo Peruggia, who was Italian by birth thought that the work by Da Vinci belonged  in it's mother country, Italy.  Peruggia was found out whilst trying to 'return the painting to Italy' for a 'small fee' from a shopkeeper whose store a few streets away from where the Mona Lisa was originally painted.

Why did we name this post 'A Fingerprint and a Doorknob' you may ask?  The only piece of evidence linking Peruggia to the crime was a doorknob he had removed from the door to get out of the Louvre and tossed in the ditch, and one fingerprint that was left on the wall where the Mona Lisa had hung.  Why didn't this link him to the crime earlier?  The detective on the case had the fingerprints of all the past and present employees of the Louvre.  The fingerprint that had been on the wall was from Peruggia's left hand, and what the detective had on file were  right handed prints.  ZING!  That's a 'face-palm' moment if I've ever heard one.

Did the heist of the Mona Lisa add to it's historical worth?  We sure think so!  If not, at least it's an interesting story.  If you're curious about the details of the stealing of the Mona Lisa a good book to read is The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.  You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hello, impasto!

Hello art world!  This is the Duluth Art Institute speaking (and/or it's Development-Operations Manager, Laura).  Well, if you haven't heard we will soon be starting screenings of Robert Hughes' "Shock of the New", which is a fantastic eight-part series on the rise and fall of the modern art movement.  Not only will you be able to rest your eyes on the handsome and talented Robert Hughes, but you will be able to do it FO FREE!  That's right, we're partnering with the Zinema 2 in downtown Duluth to share these nuggets of educational fun at no cost to you, the viewers.  If you need a convenient reminder here's the event on our Facebook page! (Insert social media marketing tactic):

This brings us onto the purpose of this blog: sharing the awesomeness that is Robert Hughes.  A few weeks back you may remember us sharing with you "Ryan Gosling, museum lover" on Facebook.  However, if you do not remember here is the link:

Now, this got our creative juices flowing.  It started as a fun Photoshop project to make our coworkers giggle but soon grew into an obsession that took over an entire afternoon.  We can't stop.  So, to turn our seemingly unproductive project into something useful we're using it to promote our "Shock of the New" series in blog form!  Every week before our showing of "Shock of the New" a new post will be made with a picture that we had a blast creating along with some fun tidbits about our sultry host and some clarification on the fancy jargon he's using.

This week our photo is brought to you from the painter Sylvia Shap and can be found in the Smithsonian Institute National Portrait Gallery.  Sylvia Shap creates portraits of interesting people, and who better than our Aussie friend, Robert Hughes?  Her technical skill as a realist-portraiture painter not only accurately depicts the physical aspects of her subjects, but reveals something about their inner-being and personality.  Doesn't this portrait just ooze Robert's insightful-suaveness?

Now, some of you might not know what impasto means; hopefully not because you fell asleep in your Art History course during your undergrad.  Anywho, here is the Merriam-Webster definition:

impasto: im·pas·tos
1 : the thick application of a pigment to a canvas or panel in painting; also : the body of pigment so applied
2 : raised decoration on ceramic ware usually of slip or enamel

In layman's terms it means the way an artist applies the paint to their canvas.  Every artist does this differently; it's an easy way to distinguish who painted what!


Wheat Field with Cypresses: Vincent Van Gogh
This is an easy-peasy example.  It's simple to distinguish a Van Gogh painting given the way the painting almost feels like its MOVING.  This movement is created because Van Gogh applied his paint with thick, continuous strokes.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte : Georges Pierre Seurat
Now here is what our dear friend, Robert, was referencing this week.  Can you see the difference in how Seurat applies his strokes?  It's much more delicate and soft compared to the robust application of Van Gogh; not unlike a lady that Robert might be seducing. 

Fun Fact:  This painting was used as inspiration for a promotional poster for the current season of "The Office".

Was also was used at one point for "The Simpsons":

Isn't art fun?  
Alright kiddies, that's enough for now.  
Until next week!

Oh yea, if you have comments, questions, or a nifty picture of Robert Hughes that you'd like to share leave us a comment!  Or email us at